It almost seems churlish to criticise Wealdstone for their defensive shortcomings in this pulsating FA Trophy tie involving two sides who expect to continue battling it out for league honours to the bitter end of the current season. Stones first half performance was described by their Manager Gordon Bartlett as ‘outstanding’ and rightly so as the home side comprehensively outplayed their lofty visitors for virtually the whole of a hugely entertaining first period and took a two goal lead that could, and should, have been three or four.
Stones second goal would have graced any level of football and was a testimony to Wealdstone’s ever heightening brand of high quality one touch football for which Maidstone had simply no answer. But when United grabbed a goal back through shockingly indecisive defending right on the half-time whistle it was a turning point – a classic ‘third goal’ scenario – and this, combined with the high winds against Stones after the break made all the difference in the final analysis.
Wealdstone started very strongly and within five minutes they had their first shot on target when James Hammond’s left footed curled effort was caught by Maidstone keeper Lee Worgan. Then the away defence failed to get the ball clear but the dangerous Tom Pett was unable to take advantage of the chance and he drove the ball wide of the right hand post.
Stones’ Jonny Wright, starting in place of leading scorer Chris Moore looked very lively indeed and was fully justifying his place up front.
With the Stones midfield functioning sweetly, led by Glen Little and Elliot Godfrey they came close to opening the scoring on 11 minutes. The commanding Little delivered a great ball into the box where it was met by McGleish and his powerful header looked to be heading for the net until Worgan pulled off a great save to tip the ball over the bar.
Worgan was called into action again when he had to stop a low effort from Little and with the bewildered away side dropping back, it was Wealdstone that again went close. The ball fell to Pett and his delightful curling effort struck the angle of the post and bar. The only concern now was could Wealdstone make the break through whilst having so much possession and dominance?
United finally began to gain some meaningful possession but it had taken them almost 30 minutes to do so. Jack Sullivan made a good run down the right and pulled the ball back to Frannie Collin who side footed the chance wide of the far post when he should have done better.
Fabio Saraiva had an effort blocked close to the line following a corner from the dangerous looking Rory Hill. Then Hill again blasted through a crowd of players only for North to make an excellent save.
Finally, on 33 minutes Wealdstone made their dominance pay and they deservedly took the lead. Stones ripped down the right flank and when Pett put a superb cross into the middle Tom Hamblin was perfectly placed to head into the net. Three minutes later and it got better for the rampant Stones. In a wonderfully flowing five man move out of defence James Hammond crossed for McGleish who fired in finish for a contender for goal of the season.
A pivotal moment in the game came a moment later when Worgan undoubtedly kept Maidstone in the game with a fine block to prevent McGleish from scoring again – and that would surely have taken the home side into an unassailable lead.
But on 45 minutes Wealdstone had a moment of defensive madness as the away side pulled a goal back completely against the run of play. Maidstone’s Steve Watt hit a long pass forward which was held up by Collin and he found Tom Mills who put the ball into the six yard box where it was eventually bundled in by Alex Brown. Both Jey Siva and Jerome Okimo had clear chances to put their foot through the ball to clear to safety in front of goal in the scramble but failed to do so.
With the wind strengthening, the second half was less clear cut in terms of goal scoring opportunities but with 71 minutes gone, the home side should have put the game beyond Maidstone. McLeish beat the towering Sobers to a header in midfield and he quickly found Wright who advanced into the area but the former Workington AFC man elected to shoot early and his weak effort was comfortably gathered by Worgan. Then moments later, Siva played a short corner to Little who crossed into the box and substitute Mark Bentley almost found the net with a header but the ball dropped agonisingly wide of the post.
As the game entered it last few tense minutes, Maidstone’s Hill found Collin inside the area and his shot took a deflection and smashed off the underside of the bar.
Then a moment of high controversy as Referee Davies called back play for a non contested dropped ball deep into Maidstone’s half. The first kick was recalled for some unknown reason and a second kick up field was weakly played in but with Stones not fully contesting the now in-play ball they lost possession and United seized on the chance of a loose ball with the home side statuesque. Collin slipped a pass into substitute Alex Flisher who chipping in for a sickening equalising finish past the hopelessly stranded North.
With the game in stoppage time Wealdstone had time for one final attack and they almost rammed the ball in from close range following a scramble inside the box but Maidstone held on to ensure that the two teams will meet again at the Gallagher Stadium on Tuesday evening with a league trip to Lowestoft avoided.
Wealdstone: North, Hammond, Siva, Hamblin ©, Okimo, Godfrey, Little, Pigden (Bentley 64), McGleish, Wright, Pett. Subs not used: Dean, Haxhia (GK), Moore, Bailey.
William Hill MoM: Jonny Wright
Match Report by Nick DuGard